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Innovative. Persistent. Results driven.
These are all qualities you'll find in Pat Renzulli, CIO for the School District of Philadelphia. At the EduStat Summit on June 22, Renzulli was selected as this year's David Kearns CIO of the Year.
About the Award
The David Kearns CIO of the Year Award is designed to recognize top public-school CIOs who are making significant contributions to improve academic achievement and administrative processes. The program, which is cosponsored by Technology & Learning, School CIO, and SchoolNet, is open to CIOs and senior technology officers from public school districts with 20,000 or more students. The award is named after David T. Kearns, former CEO and chairman of Xerox, who also served as deputy secretary of education from 1991 to 1993.
Applicants are judged by an independent panel headed by Technology & Learning editors and are evaluated based on how they have used technology to advance academic excellence in areas such as curriculum, accountability, assessment, community relations, professional development, and instruction.
Winners are announced annually at the EduStat Summit, an event hosted by SchoolNet to encourage educators to share best practices for IT management. For more information, visit www.edustat.com.
This past school year was an epic journey for Renzulli. Among other accomplishments, she developed a process for principals to receive key performance indicators, lead the implementation of an instructional management system, rolled out a district-wide technology curriculum, and improved student and community access to information through a unique "Cybrary" initiative.
All told, since Renzulli left a corporate CIO job at Sunoco to join the district in 2001, she has put district priorities ahead of her own, striving to implement technologies that serve students best.
Renzulli's successes started with an overhaul of operational efficiencies in the district. The effort, which is still underway, revolves around a district-wide review of the processes supporting student administration and ultimately will result in upgrades to the district's student information system. Renzulli says the goals of this project are to reclaim "several days" worth of instructional time and capture better data about students and programs so teachers can make better choices.
"We are striving to streamline business processes in every area," she says. "Time is currency for a teacher, and to be able to free up such a precious commodity is huge."
Another trailblazing endeavor: the three-year implementation of a new instructional management system (IMS) that provides teachers with online curriculum, benchmark testing, and various other instructional resources. One key source of these resources is Princeton Review, which gives teachers alternative teaching strategies for specific subject matter, depending on student performance in benchmark tests.
Complementing this system is a new technology curriculum designed to train interested students for careers in technology. Central to this strategy are "Tech Academies" that train students in basic Microsoft programming skills.
Renzulli's curriculum innovations don't stop there.
With the implementation of new Cybraries, she has introduced students and teachers to the concept of digital libraries by retraining librarians as technology leaders for each school. Some of the skills librarians are learning include building and managing Web sites, running Wikis and blogs, and troubleshooting common problems with digital cameras and iPods.
"This is about the role librarians will play as technology leaders in our schools," she says. "These people will become, in a sense, the key technologists in our district as a whole."
Finally, Renzulli has made huge strides in improving efficiency by outsourcing the district's data center to a local solution provider. This has been successful for two reasons. First, Philadelphia has expanded its support window from 8X5 to 24X7. Second, while the district used to stay on top of the latest and greatest technologies itself, now it looks to the marketplace to provide all new application software, thus avoiding proprietary application development.
Right off the bat, the district saved big bucks with the move to outsource, avoiding the need to invest "millions" in technology of its own. When you talk about return on investment in the academic environment, however, success also is measured in student performance. In the area of curriculum enhancements, for instance, more than 75 students have gone through Tech Academy and have graduated as Microsoft Certified Technicians. Another 15 are expected to graduate next year.
"We've created a legitimate high school track for young people who are interested in technology careers," Renzulli says. "Apprentice programs, internships — all of these provide opportunities that students are embracing."
Further proof that the projects are paying off is a new effort to provide families with online access to student report card information and benchmark test results. This program, called FamilyNet, is an extension of the district's IMS from SchoolNet, and it enables parents to get performance information about their kids directly from the district. At first, adoption rates were slow. Now, however, after a full year of implementation, 20 percent of the district's families have signed up and used the system.
User adoption is high among district employees, too.
As part of a recent data warehousing implementation, Renzulli rolled out SchoolStat, a program through which principals are provided monthly updates of key school performance indicators through a dashboard. Principals are so impressed with the system that they hold monthly meetings with regional superintendents to share performance statistics and discuss potential improvement actions.
All of these technologies has driven new habits and shown great results. Based on preliminary research conducted by Temple University, those schools that use the district's IMS have outperformed those that did not yet have the IMS installed.
"One of the things we take great pride in here is that we realize technology is not an end onto itself," says Renzulli. "Yes, technology is important. But for us, it's more important to work with colleagues, constituents and community members to make sure we're doing the very best we can for our students."
Finalists: Ed Freeman and Don Hall
This year's David Kearns CIO of the Year finalists were Ed Freeman, CIO and CTO of Denver Public Schools in Denver, and Don Hall, CIO of Kent School District in Kent, Washington. Freeman reengineered the way his district manages projects through the creation of quality assurance and business analyst teams and developed an enterprise-wide academic computing architecture that features one of the first teacher pay-for-performance systems in the country. Hall was instrumental in getting two levies passed to increase technology access in his district, and he was responsible for providing computers to 3,000 at-risk families to support after-hours tutoring. Freeman and Hall were both recognized for their work at the EduStat Summit.